You know the quote, Arthur C. Clarke’s finest: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” You can only imagine how mind-blown people must have been when Conrad Schnitzler cranked up his machines way back in the early 70s but his influence has been written out of the major theses on the development of electronic music, perhaps because of his affiliation with the hair-synth of Tangerine Dream, perhaps because he slipped away from them just before they really hit the big time. He was also a founding member of Kluster, of course, before jumping ship just before everyone started pretending they’d liked them all along too. His influence continues, though and it’s entirely fitting that these two records are released at the same time, on the same label.These two records, both released on vinyl thicker than your arm (the Schnitzler on double vinyl), were recorded live almost 40 years apart and yet they are clearly kin, clearly wrought from the same machine fetishism, the same crackle and flicker and pulse. Schnitzler’s machines rock (in the same way that mental patients rock) from almost ambient (i.e. not ambient at all) to aggressive arpeggios and Ekoplekz follows a similar pattern. Both of these performances are admirably unafraid of space; sounds are allowed to die, to be left unattended, to be faintly abused and neglected. There’s quiet majesty at work here; an obsessional quality, yes, but one that’s obsessional about being non-obsessional; neither of these guys is falling into the trap of endless EQ-ing of hi-hats (Schnitzler because he couldn’t, Ekoplekz because he’s been there before and come out wide-eyed and staring, with no finished tracks); they are forcing the machines to let loose, to go out of their tiny minds.
This paragraph went on to suggest there’s clearly a parallel with the kitchen-sink futurism of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with David Cain and Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram et al but… Jesus, if you needed those kind of cosy, retro reassurances then you’re missing the point.These releases don’t sound like 40 years has passed between them; the Schnitzler could have been released yesterday, the Ekoplekz could have be released 40 years ago. They exist in their own little spacetime, attached by an Einstein-Rosen bridge; a space that surprisingly few have actually tried to explore, even now in this retromaniac age, where the nasty overloaded Miami Vice synths can be heard coming from all directions. You don’t hear these sounds very often, because they are partly the result of faults and accidental echoes; they aren’t designed and can’t be; they follow the Gods of best laid plans and are all the more enthralling because things can so obviously go wrong.
If there’s one way of differentiating these two releases, it’s that Schnitzler has seldom played a better set than the one here (he’s released an awful lot of stuff, not all of it essential) whilst, arguably, Ekoplekz has played a lot better (in this early performance he’s finding his live methodology, spinning a few knobs, seeing what happens). If you’re interested in live electronics though, you’ll want both of these. You’ll want to play them side by side, to compare and contrast but also to further blur the boundaries between the old and new.